David Lose: Social Capital and Courage in a Brave New World


I've suggested on countless occasions in multiple venues that we live in a liminal time, a transition time, a time when major paradigms are shifting and change is the only constant. Which means that business as usual just won't cut it.

In particular, during times such as these, a different kind of leadership is needed. Whereas technical competence and excellent managerial skills are highly valued traits of leaders during the long stretches of stability in between more tumultuous times of paradigm change, those very traits can greatly limit an organization's ability to adapt to new circumstances.

Why? Simply because you can't manage your way through a paradigm shift and knowing what you don't know - rather than relying on what you do - is absolutely essential to finding a new way forward in a vastly changed landscape.

Not that it's bad to be technically competent or a good manager. It's simply that when these are the chief traits of an organization's key leadership, the temptation will be to rely on the solid and reliable set of skills that worked brilliantly during periods of stability rather than being willing to abandon skills and perspectives that no longer suffice. This is, essentially, the heart of adaptive leadership, the term and leadership perspective proposed by Ron Heifetz in his outstanding book, Leadership Without Easy Answers . (Heifetz distinguishes between technical change, which requires us to do things differently, and adaptive change, requires us to think differently about what we're doing [p. 22].)

Among the skills required of adaptive leaders, ones that are often overlooked are the social skills of listening, caring, networking, and empowering. New York Times writer David Brooks describes some of these in a recent column, naming them social courage:

In today's loosely networked world, people with social courage have amazing value. Everyone goes to conferences and meets people, but some people invite six people to lunch afterward and follow up with four carefully tended friendships forevermore. Then they spend their lives connecting people across networks.

People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation - willing to listen 70 percent of the time. They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels. If you're interested in a new field, they can reel off the names of 10 people you should know. They develop large informal networks of contacts that transcend their organization and give them an independent power base. They are discriminating in their personal recommendations since character judgment is their primary currency.

Notice the emphasis here: listening rather than talking, connecting rather than ordering, building relationships rather than simply organizing people. This is the ability to create social capital because, living in a world in which we recognize that we really don't know the best way forward, we also recognize we won't get there alone. I have said on multiple occasions that I am convinced of two things right now: 1) Not one of us knows the best way forward (as a church, as companies, as relief agencies, as health providers, as the government). There is simply too much up for grabs, too much changing too quickly. Of that I am absolutely sure. But I also believe that 2) God has provided us collectively with sufficient wisdom, fortitude, patience and grace to discern God's preferred future together.

Which is why building and tending relationships, along side with valuing innovation and creativity, is essential for a leader in the world of a fluxus quo.

Note: you can read the whole of Brooks' excellent piece here.

From David's blog, "...In the Meantime"